Chapter 7 – Settlement

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 7 – Settlement

Courage and memory

[Bible references: Numbers 1; Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Joshua 1:1-9; Joshua 3-4; Joshua 5:13-14; Deuteronomy 6:10-12]

When the people of Israel first approached the Promised Land, twelve spies were sent out to scout out the land. Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies that did not bring back a report of discouragement. The discouragement brought by the other ten spies caused all the people of Israel to rebel against God as they forgot all the miracles of God’s provision in their flight from Egypt. This resulted in God subjecting the people of Israel to encamping in the wilderness for forty years. All the adults except for Joshua and Caleb, were subject to die in the wilderness before the people of Israel would enter the promised land.

It was therefore Joshua who was chosen to lead the people into the Promised Land at the end of the forty years. As before, the nation of Israel would encounter other people already living in the land, so Israel would need to fight for the land; it would not be easy. Before Joshua led his people into the land, God repeatedly said to Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage … do not be terrified or discouraged.” Then as a refresher, God also performed miracles as the people entered the land, causing the Jordan River to cease flowing to allow the people to cross on dry land – repeating the miracle of the parting of the sea as they fled Egypt.

Before Israel even left Egypt, the people were given gold and other wealth that was not theirs, the water from miraculously made springs and the manna that fell from the sky was not theirs. Now the homes and fields that God gave them to capture were the provision of God as well.

God’s fullness, his followers’ emptiness

[Bible references: Numbers 33:55-56; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 12:2-3, 29-32; 6:17; Joshua 3:3; 4; 6; 10:1-15; 23-24; Isaiah 65:6-7]

God’s provision though was going to require their involvement. It would start with the way they crossed the Jordan River where the people carrying the ark needed to get their feet wet in the river before it would stop flowing. And since this time, the river would now be the boundary of their new land, the people were instructed to set up a monument of twelve stones to be a reminder God’s provision. The next miracle which came soon after was the crumbling of the walls of Jericho which occurred after seven days of marching around the city. That miracle would be followed by others as the people of Israel continued to capture the cities.

According to the message that Yahweh shared with Abraham, the entry of Israel into the Promised Land meant that the sin of the Amorites had now reached its full measure. As with the time of Noah, that full measure would now end in the destruction of the inhabitants of the land, this time by the people of Israel. The danger to Israel would be, that if the current inhabitants of the land with their idolatries and atrocities, which included sacrificing their children to be burned alive, were allowed to live among the people of Israel, the people of Israel would be tempted to also turn from God.

So, beginning at Jericho, the people of Israel to instructed to “totally destroy” (Hebrew “herem”)[1] the inhabitants of the city. This instruction would be repeated other times as well. The problem that would appear is that Israel did not always follow these instructions with the consequent result that Israel would continuously get drawn into the idolatries of the current inhabitants.

Before Joshua died, he challenged the people to serve Yahweh and the people responded that they would choose to serve Yahweh. Joshua replied that they could not serve Yahweh, the God who is so holy. Nevertheless, the people responded that they would serve Yahweh. Joshua then said that they were “witnesses against themselves.” They would be. In the end, they did not follow God’s commands to defeat the tribes in the Promised Land. They did not “completely destroy” the cities as they were told. Israel therefore allowed themselves to be subject to continual temptation to sin by turning from worshipping God and towards worshipping idols, participating in the same atrocities that God found so reprehensible.

The God of War

[Bible references: Exodus 22:21-22; Leviticus 19:33–34; Deuteronomy 10:17–19; 24:19; Joshua 6:17-21; 1 Samuel 15:1-3; Psalm 10:14–18; 68:5; 146:9; Ezekiel 47:22–23; James 1:7]

One of the troublesome tensions of the Christian faith is how to reconcile our picture of Jesus who’s come to bring us peace with the picture of the “pre-Jesus” God who seems so violent. In particular, the God who commanded Israel to “totally destroy,” to leave no one alive in the cities of the “promised land” they were to inhabit.

It has been so hard to reconcile the two images of the God, one of the Old Testament that engaged in violence and the second of one of the New Testament who came to “bring peace,” that from the earliest days of the church some Christians felt compelled to abandon the Old Testament altogether. There are several issues that come affect how we deal with this problem.

There are less differences between how God is revealed in the Old vs. New Testaments than many think. (See Chapter 2; Paradoxes and Mysteries; Gracious, Merciful and Just). If we have a problem with God in the Old Testament, then we have a problem in the New Testament as well. Both Testaments together provide the full story of the Gospel and a full picture of God.

We need to see all suffering and death in context of Jesus’ suffering and death by execution. Jesus is God the Son, present from before Creation, the God of Creation, the God of Abraham, Moses and Israel, and the God who commanded Israel to herem the people in Canaan. Jesus cannot be separated from all the activity ascribed to God’s activity in the Old Testament. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace that we are more comfortable dealing with, is only available because of all that He had done beginning with Creation, extending through history of the patriarchs and Israel and eventually his own incarnation, suffering and death.

We need to accept that there is much that we do not know. This comes at us a couple of different ways. We must deal with our cultural separation from the times before Jesus, there are things going on with the ancient near east culture that we don’t know. We also must deal with a knowledge of God that is far beyond ours. We need to take seriously Yahweh’s criticism of Job, and of Yahweh’s admonition to Isaiah, “my ways are higher than your ways,” we must be careful to accuse Yahweh of injustice because there is much that do not understand.

The totality of destruction implied by herem catches our attention, but this is only a specific, though perhaps extreme, case of the question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” The answer to the everyday issue of why “innocent” people suffer, is the same answer that underlies the killing of people that we assume are innocent.

Our sanitized culture makes it difficult for us in the modern day who live in a time where we do not witness the slaughter of animals we eat. We have a hard time associating with those who lived in the time where there was the ritual slaughter of animals, not for the sake of food but for the sake of sins. We have not had to watch the slaughter of animals and contemplate the awfulness of our sin and of God’s hatred of sin because of its awful effect on us. We are then even further separated from the concept of a God so jealous for us that he would even offer himself to be slaughtered on our behalf.

Our perception is further sanitized because we live in a world that has been cleansed by the effect of the grace of Christian values (OK, we have to admit that the church has not always lived up to its professed values) and the ameliorative effects of technology and medicine. It has been the Christian value of life that confronted the once common practice of abandoning babies on the street to die and made it rare. It has been Christian values that have elevated the status of women and children. It has been Christian values that led to the development of modern science. So many of what are now commonly accepted values in Western civilization, were adopted from Christian values, but it’s easy to forget where those values came from.

Yet another level of sanitization occurs when we don’t consider the extent of our own sin and depravity in context of the extent of the holiness of God. A contrast that caused the prophet Isaiah to proclaim, “Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips.”

We also are forgetful of the mercies of God. 1) Jonah was perturbed when Yahweh responded to the repentance shown by the Ninevites by not bringing about the threatened destruction. 2) The mercies shown to many of the idolatrous kings of Israel when they repented.[2] 3) In the case of Israel entering the Promised Land, we don’t know what kind of warnings the Canaanites may have received prior to the “total destruction” of their cities. We do know that Yahweh patiently waited until he “sin of the Amorites would reach their full measure.” The Canaanites may have had sufficient warning to change their ways (and they had, among other abhorrent practices, that of sacrificing their children to the flames) and yet they didn’t. While we, in our time, may think of the “total destruction” as genocide, it may be instead an act of mercy – reducing the pain and suffering that would otherwise go on.

Sparing the lives of the “innocent” within the borders of the Israel did lead to the Israelites to continue the reprehensible practices of the Canaanite religions, prolonging the suffering that Yahweh wanted to put an end to. Israel’s susceptibility to fall into the sin of the nations around them. Israel was warned that allowing the original inhabitants to live alongside of them, would cause the Israelites to adopt the same abhorrent practices – which is what happened.

God had already used the forces of nature to directly carry out his herem version of justice (ex: The Great Flood which killed all people except Noah and his family, the crossing of the Red Sea in which innumerable Egyptian soldiers died). God’s commanding Israel to invoke herem was now calling Israel to act as his agent in executing a type of justice that God had already been practicing.

How innocent were the Canaanites: men, women, and children? We can’t argue from silence that the Canaanites did not have a chance to respond to God’s warnings. We do know that God waited several hundred years before executing his judgement.

It is not just in the Old Testament that we witness immense suffering. All around us today and through the years before, there has been great suffering among God’s image-bearers caused by our own violence or the violence of natural events or the violence of birth defects. All these can cause us to question, “Why, God?”

All these are various issues, and likely not the only issues, to consider while grappling both with God’s implication in violent activity and with the suffering endured by those we consider to be innocent. These issues, even all taken together, will not necessarily provide us comfortable answers. But we also need to remember, that if we have a “God” we think we totally understand, then it is not God that we are really understanding. Also, if we have a “God” that we are fully comfortable with, then we are not fully dealing with the holiness of God and the totality of our sin.

Jesus dealt with the totality of our sin by his suffering and excruciating death. It is only by the violence endured by Jesus that He has become our Prince of Peace. This is the lens through which we must see the violence around us. But even with that lens, we are not likely to have a ‘satisfactory’ answer. Even with that lens we will still struggle.

Time and time again, we see ordinary people approaching God with raw honesty about human suffering. And God responds to them, because they reflect his own lionheart that’s hell-bent against evil and death. God wants our protest against the evil and pain in this world. … To be a Christian is never to be apathetic toward evil and suffering, nor to avoid protesting God. Instead, we are told to work out our faith in “fear and trembling,” which includes unflinching lament at all the evil and death in this world. We are meant to hold our hands open in foolish faith, to watch and wait with hopeful expectation for God to show up in surprising ways—to remind us that he is good and powerful and that he will grant us his own steadfast courage. We are called to the daring and bold love of God in Jesus Christ, who stopped at nothing—not even death on a cross—to fight and win back the glory and goodness of God’s original creation.[3]

Perhaps we are meant to struggle, to lament about all that’s wrong, evil, awful, terrible, sad, and more that our hearts can bear. But in our lament, not to give up the hope that is also in our hearts, the hope that God our Father is alive, that our Father cares so deeply that He gave His Son, that miracles still do happen and that we can expect God to show up in our midst.

Judges and the Cycle of sin

[Bible references: Deuteronomy 32:28; Judges 2:11-13; 8; 17-18; 21:15, 25; 1 Samuel 4]

Because Israel had not been faithful to “totally destroy” the people whose land they conquered, the foretold consequence became true, Israel became ensnared in the horrid idol worship practices of those people. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

To discipline his people, God allowed Israel to be plundered by the surrounding peoples until Israel cried for mercy. God then raised up leaders called judges to successfully fight off the oppressors and Israel would respond by turning from idol worship, but only for a while. Eventually Israel would fall away from Yahweh once again and the cycle of oppression, rescue, and falling away would repeat.

God raising his people

[Bible references: 1 Samuel 1-2; Ruth 1-4; Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:21-38; 1 Corinthians 25; (See also, Sarah (Genesis 16-18) Rebekah (Genesis 25:19-26) Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25))]

During the time of the judges, while the nation of Israel struggled and failed to follow God, we find that God was raising judges in response to Israel’s cry for help in their ongoing cycle of sin, God was also quietly working the background through individuals to carry out His larger plan.

During the period of the Judges, God used drought to cause Elimelech and his wife Naomi and their two sons to move to Moab. Both of her sons got married in Moab and one of them married a woman named Ruth. When Naomi’s husband and sons were tragically killed, Naomi moved back home to Israel. While Ruth could have stayed in Moab, Ruth desired to follow Naomi and particularly to follow Naomi’s God. God used that act of faith to arrange for Ruth to meet and married Boaz, and thus inserting a Moabite woman into the lineage of people who would become the ancestors of Jesus.

There is a recurring story that began in Genesis with Abraham and Sarah, where God working through women who have difficulties in pregnancy. In the time of Judges, the woman was Hannah. In her struggle to become pregnant, Hannah leaned on God. One day, while she was praying at the tabernacle, the priest, Eli, saw her and asked God to grant Hannah her wish. Shortly thereafter, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Samuel. In an act of gratefulness, after giving birth to Samuel, Hannah committed Samuel to serve at the tabernacle with Eli. Little did Eli know at the time that God would raise up Samuel to be a priest in place of his sons. When Eli’s sons had become corrupt and unfit to serve as priests, God worked with Hannah’s fervent worship to raise up Samuel and eventually called Samuel to replace Eli as priest. Samuel ended up being a prophet for Israel and served as the last of the judges.

The Cycle of Sin Continues

[Bible references: Genesis 3; Judges 8:22-27; 17; 1 Samuel 4]

While Eli was priest, there came a time when Israel had to fight the Philistines, a nation with iron instruments that was exceedingly difficult to fight. After Israel was routed in one battle, Eli’s sons thought that the solution for victory was to take the ark with them into battle. They thought that they surely would win the battle if they carried God, whose presence was supposed to be in the ark, into battle. What they didn’t do, however, was to consult with God. Not only did Israel lose again, but Israel also lost the ark itself to the Philistines.

The mistake that Israel made was a mistake as old as Adam and Eve. We would rather have a God that we can handle rather that one we are accountable to. Want wisdom? Don’t wait for God, just eat from the tree. Want to win a battle? Don’t wait for God to lead you, take God (as the ark) with you. One of the previous judges, Gideon, would make an ephod that would become an idol for Israel. Also, in the period of the judges, a priest named Micah, would make an ephod that would also become an idol. One of the convenient things about idols is that while they may not have the power of God, they don’t make uncomfortable demands about changing our lives either.


[1] Lyon, William L. “Between History and Theology: The Problem of H9 Erem in Modern Evangelical Biblical Scholarship”

[2] Rishawy, Derek. “God’s mercies aren’t so new” 

[3] Hill, Preston. “Have Christians Forgotten How to Fight with God?”

Reflect

Joshua was certainly encouraged when the nation crossed the Jordan River on dry land just as the nation crossed the Red Sea on dry land 40 years earlier. When trying to follow God, what encourages you?

Observe

Read Deuteronomy 6:10-12. It is a good thing to have God provide for us, but what dangers are there when God does provide for us?

Reflect

Our culture has traditions like New Years’ Resolutions where we promise to make changes in our lives, yet 85% of resolutions fail.[1] What make us unsuccessful so often?

Observe

Read Deuteronomy 7:1-5.  God certainly had the power to simply wipe out all the inhabitants of the Promised Land. God did many miracles, intervening many times on Israel’s behalf. Why do you think that God had the Israelites carry out those many battles?

Reflect

What have been your conflicting ideas between the Old and New Testaments?

Observe

Read Joshua 6:17-21; 1 Samuel 15:1-3. If you think about Jesus being one part of the moving, brooding, dancing God who invoked violence in the Old Testament, how do you process that?

Reflect

Whether it’s a physical talisman or a ritual procedure or task, we find it easier to call God into the plans we already made than to humble ourselves to His plans. Think of ways that we do this.

Observe

Read Judges 2. The book of Judges is a record of our penchant to turn from God and of his patient faithfulness, continuing to rescue us despite our persistent failure. How does this cycle make you feel?

Reflect

We can get distracted by events around us and lose sight of the fact that God is always working around us, even when things seem to be in turmoil. How can that help us in our daily lives?

Observe

Read Ruth 1-4; Matthew 1:1-17. Think about the travails of Naomi and how God worked in the midst of her troubles to insert a foreign woman into Jesus’ ancestry. What does it mean that Jesus set it up so that non-Jews were part of his human ancestry?

Reflect

What kinds of changes do you need to make in your life in order to reflect the true God and not the “god” you are comfortable with?

Observe

Read Judges 8:22-27; Proverbs 2:1-8. Gideon tried to do a good thing but created a big problem. How can we avoid creating a similar problem?


[1] Tabaka, Marla. “Most People Fail to Achieve Their New Year’s Resolution. For Success, Choose a Word of the Year Instead” Inc.com  http://www.inc.com/marla-tabaka/why-set-yourself-up-for-failure-ditch-new-years-resolution-do-this-instead.html

Author: transcendenttouched

I have been teaching the Bible to children and adults for over twenty years. Most recently, including teaching Discipleship/Confirmation classes. I have also been involved in various church leadership roles for many of those years. Until recently, my writing endeavors have been confined mainly to poetry. I've written an anthology of my first 40 years of writing poetry in my book, Growing. I have also written an overview of the Bible called, God Reveals Himself.

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